Are You Afraid of Change?
Fear is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction--fear of withdrawal, fear of loneliness, fear of vulnerability, fear of failure, and more. Underlying many of these fears is a general fear of change. Getting sober is perhaps the biggest change you’ll ever make in your life and it requires other changes, including how you relate to others, what you do for fun, who you spend time with, and how you take care of yourself.
That can feel pretty daunting and fear can slow your progress in recovery. The following suggestions can help be less afraid of change, and perhaps even embrace it.
Why Change is Scary
First, it helps to understand why change scares us. It may seem irrational to fear change. For example, you may look at what drugs and alcohol have done to your life and think that any change has to be better, and, in fact, that’s what motivates many people to seek help. However, you may still resist change, even when you rationally know it will be better for you.
Why? Well, however bad your life is right now, at least you know you can survive it. You know what to expect and you know how to deal with the challenges that come with your current way of life. Even if it’s bad, at least it’s familiar. If you make a change, who knows what will happen?
You may face some situations that you don’t know how to deal with. Even if you know, rationally, that getting sober won’t threaten your life--and will likely save it--we instinctively fear the unknown. You don’t know quite how to imagine sober life and at the very least, that can undermine your resolve.
Do Your Research
One way to reduce your fear of change is to understand it better. The clearer your idea of your destination, the less threatening it will seem. For example, in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to book a hotel room or rent an apartment in another city, you pretty much had to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Now you can look at pictures, explore the neighborhood with Google street view, and get step-by-step directions to the front door. The whole process is much less scary.
Similarly, if you’re trying to make a big change in life, whether it’s getting sober, moving to another area, or changing careers, knowing what you’re getting into helps minimize your fears. If you’re trying to recover from addiction, that means reading memoirs about recovery, listening to others at 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions, and talking to people who have been where you want to go. This helps replace simplistic and distorted ideas of what that change means with more accurate and inspiring possibilities and it also alerts you to possible challenges along the way.
Approach Change With Curiosity
However much research you do, you won’t be able to predict the future. There will always be unexpected challenges and every individual has a different journey. These unknowables can be a significant source of anxiety.
One way to cope is to approach the change with curiosity, rather than trepidation. Fear and excitement are physiologically the same--your heart rate and breathing speed up, your senses are sharpened, and so on--and you can choose how to interpret those physiological signals. That means you can feel afraid and choose to be excited. Being excited about the unknown is another name for curiosity.
Think of recovery as a film, in which you can’t wait to see what happens. This applies to big and small changes alike. Is your therapist asking you to do something that stretches your comfort zone a bit? Think of it as an experiment and be curious about the result.
Confront Your Fear of Failure
As discussed above, we often prefer the familiar to the unknown, even if the familiar is pretty miserable. The reason is that in the primitive parts of our brains, we believe the unknown can be fatal. While death is not a likely outcome of getting sober, failure is certainly possible. Recovery takes a lot of time and effort.
You and your loved ones may have high hopes and the thought of letting everyone down can be frightening. Or you may be afraid that once you’re sober, you’ll no longer have an excuse for failure in other areas of your life, such as work or relationships. In short, you’re afraid that trying to get sober will somehow expose you as inadequate.
That’s a normal fear but it’s also a kind of illusion. Say, for example, that you do relapse. That’s certainly a setback, but it’s not a permanent failure. Plenty of people relapse several times and still eventually get sober. Everything worthwhile takes practice and perseverance. You will inevitably have setbacks and disappointments but they don’t have to be permanent failures.
Focus on the Process
Part of the fear of change is that you see a clear dividing line between the person you are now and the person you want to become. That idea of transformation can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying. The problem is that the person you are changing into only exists in the future, in your imagination.
If you could somehow snap your fingers and turn into that person, it would feel strange and alienating. All you can really do is focus on the present and the process of recovery. Recovery is really a matter of practicing new skills, learning new things about yourself, and making small changes in your habits, and eventually, you will move from being able to abstain from drugs and alcohol to preferring to live without them. There is no point at which you change into a different person but at some point, you’ll look back and realize life is different now.
It’s normal to fear change. Most of us are hardwired to prefer the familiar. However, fear of change can keep you stuck, and sometimes it can even threaten your life. The keys to overcoming change are to know what to expect, be curious about the process, be aware of your fear of failure, and focus on the process in the present moment.